After the release of Super Size Me, the 2004 documentary that showed director Morgan Spurlock's burgeoning girth after exclusively eating McDonald's food for a month, Americans became more aware of the unhealthy choices offered at fast food chains. Capitalizing on that new awareness, Carolinas Medical Center has teamed up with nine locally owned restaurants and Johnson & Wales University to provide some healthy dining choices for Charlotteans. The program is called Eat Well Carolinas!, and it's part of a larger CMC mission to promote healthful lifestyle choices.
"We were approached by CMC to see if we could identify some fine-dining locations that might be interested in a trial run for this program," said Peter Lehmuller, dean of culinary education at Johnson & Wales. "We contacted some of the chefs of properties where the cuisine base seemed to be a natural fit for the dietary guidelines. We did not want chefs to create hospital food, but rather take what they were already doing and showcase the good health inherent in the dish. The idea is to give guests choices on menus."
Chain restaurants have always had the ability to be fairly accurate about the calorie and fat content of their menu items, since the items at chains are made in a prescriptive manner. Same for the fast, casual, segment restaurants, such as Panera Bread and Ruby Tuesday, both of which have their food products analyzed and note healthy items on their menus.
It hasn't been so easy for locally owned high-end establishments, which frequently change menus and typically have not gone to the expense of having nutritional analyses performed. By participating in Eat Well, those restaurants -- Sonoma Modern American Cuisine, Town, Noble's Restaurant, Blue, Table, Arpa, Mimosa Grill, Upstream and Zink American Kitchen -- now have the opportunity to have their menu items analyzed for specific components. Those restaurants will be able to officially promote their commitment to healthy dining with a CMC Eat Well, Carolinas! decal.
Lehmuller, who selected the restaurants for Eat Well, noted that the trial program seems a "perfect fit to give [JWU] students the chance to apply their knowledge and specialized interest in nutrition in a real-world setting."
The chefs at these restaurants -- Gene Briggs, Tom Condemn, Tim Groody, Jim Noble and Kyle Krieger -- submitted recipes for their dishes to Mary Etta Moorachian, professor in the College of Culinary Arts at JWU. Her students in the Nutrition Society analyzed the dishes. "The analysis for one recipe varies. For example, we had to meet with and/or talk with the chefs to confirm production methods and to clarify ingredients," said Moorachian. "Once we had a completed recipe, the analysis itself can require 10 to 20 minutes. If tweaking was needed, we went back for a visit, made phone calls for adjustments and then analyzed again. I then went back to the chefs with confirmation of recipes that met the criteria."
The model for the recipes was Mediterranean-style food: lean protein to ensure reduction in saturated fat (for a large entrée, nine grams or less); good use of mono fats such as olive oil; no added trans fats; at least four vegetable or fruit servings or one whole grain with three vegetables or fruits; serving sizes of less than 1/2 cup when cooked; and entrées limited to 800 calories or less. Moorachian noted that most of the recipes submitted were well under the 800-calorie limit.
"If the recipes were close, we discussed adjustments," Moorachian said. "We had a few recipes that were at 2.8 vegetables and we worked with the chefs to make sure that the servings could be increased without compromise of the dish. For example, Chef Briggs added more baby artichokes and spinach and is using a lentil orzo pasta."
Flavor has not been lost in these certified healthy dishes. Some of the entrees include caramelized halibut with asparagus, sweet potato, fava beans and cabbage (at Sonoma); grilled North Carolina free-range chicken, Anson Mills polenta, asparagus and lemon chicken jus (at Noble's); mustard seed seared wild salmon with organic microgreens and golden beet frites with truffle honey ginger glaze (at Arpa) and pan-seared Mediterranean sea bass with wilted spinach and whole wheat orzo (at Blue).
"Lots of chefs are cooking this way and offering great dishes that meet these sound nutritional guidelines," said Lehmuller. Meanwhile, look for the Eat Healthy apple logo on restaurant windows and in menus.
To contact Tricia regarding tips, compliments, or complaints, or to send notice of a food or wine event (at least 12 days in advance, please), opening, closing, or menu change, fax Eaters' Digest at 704-944-3605, leave voice mail at 704-522-8334, ext. 136, or e-mail email@example.com.